Conflict-It’s Like a Swimming Pool

By Dr. Rhonda Roos, IPLI Extended Cohort 2 Mentor

A dear friend, and fellow educator, asked me a question. I had to think long and hard about my answer. She asked, “Rhonda, what was the one lesson that took you the longest to learn as a principal?”

“It took me too long to understand that conflict goes with leadership. It took me too long to quit striving toward the day where there would be no conflict. It took me too long to realize that conflict can be a good thing!” I don’t want it to take principals as long as it took me to understand conflict and reframe your thinking with a new perspective.

As you become more intentional in strengthening your skill of building relationships, especially with a strong foundation of trust, it makes it much easier to address conflicts when they arise in your school. These conflicts come in all shapes and sizes – small issues, huge issues, two people, groups of people. But one thing is for certain – effective principals frame their conflicts with a positive perspective. They face them and work diligently to address them in positive, meaningful ways. They reframe their thinking and begin to see conflict as an opportunity. They know that addressing conflict will make their school much healthier and successful.

I like the analogy of viewing conflict as a swimming pool. Far too many times, principals keep the discussion at an artificial harmony level or at the shallow end of the pool. Everybody feels safe, so they tend to simply splash around in the baby end of the water, where no meaningful conversations occur, and no meaningful changes in behavior take place. Maybe we stay in the shallow end because we’re too afraid to swim out to the deepest end where mean-spirited arguments can arise. But a true leader encourages people to swim out to the deep end rope where teams can begin to discuss the difficult issues and work together to solve them. You can do this when you’ve built relationships with your staff. That’s using conflict in a constructive way. Good things can happen when you get staff members to be open and discuss the difficult issues. If the conversation doesbecome too heated where harsh words or negative things are being said, then lead. Take control of the conversation and lead your team back to a healthy place of dialogue.

Conflict. It’s a really difficult part of leadership. But you must learn to stop avoiding it and reframe your thinking. Start addressing it. Build your conflict skill each and every time you’re willing to address an issue. Build your conflict skill each and every time you’re willing to go find issues when there appear to be none. Build your conflict skill when you don’t react to negative, conflict energy. Instead, respond with a clear perspective of addressing conflict and finding opportunities for your school and staff to grow.